Ukrainians and Russians, Politics and Refugees
By Andres Machalski, President, MIREMS
When do we call this conflict the Third World War? When the aggressor decides it, or when the defenders acknowledge it? US President Joe Biden thinks WWIII will start if NATO and Russia tangle directly. As of this writing Putin is busy making collaboration with Ukraine a declaration of war.
Or is it when it spreads to the Third World?
While the Russians appear bogged down by Spring mud and the Ukrainian Resistance, one wonders about the outcome of previous confrontations between regular and guerrilla warfare in the past century. For Ukrainian partisans, the only thing that has changed over time is the foe.
Beyond the bravery of Ukrainian defenders, the disorder of the Russian attack, and the NATO powers playing cat on a hot tin roof with regards to whether to supply jets to Ukraine, there lies a stunned world that shudders with the memory of previous European conflicts going nuclear.
Whether Kyiv falls to the Russians today or tomorrow, whether dumb bombs are being used, whether there is a no-fly zone or not, whether the comparisons to 1939 are alarmingly precise or not, and whether Mariupol is Guernica, we will be the first generation to be afforded a front seat to view of the horrors of war.
What our parents saw on single source news reels in movie theatres, we will see on YouTube in real time, with the revived news reels to remind us that having forgotten the onslaught of totalitarianism, we are fated to repeat it. Hot or cold, this war is spreading faster than COVID-19, that almost forgotten Plague that has been replaced by War and Conquest, with Famine galloping up, and Death present always.
The incredible attention media worldwide is paying to the war in Ukraine and tracking their own nationals caught up in the conflict shows a difference in approaches. Channels like the British Sky and BBC, DW in Europe and others in Asia present angles to the war that are subtly different from those on CNN and CBC. The sources I look at come from perspectives even more diverse in their worldview.
To kick off a series of blog posts that will be unique because of their sources if not their insights, this first issue will focus on the Americas, from Canada’s far North to Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego, as well as the countries in between.
The Third World War and the Americas
Whether Putin’s two options are improbable retreat or horrific mass murder, and whether we may be already in the Third Word War, as mainstream articles suggest, the one thing that we can predict because it is happening already is the flow of Ukrainian, Russian, and other refugees toward the Americas.
For the Americas, it is certainly a “Third World” conflict. This current of refugees will be guided by the diverse realities and political positions of each country, often the home of both Russians and Ukrainians in close proximity. Each of the two dozen Latin American countries has different historical alliances and policies, and their reaction to the war in Ukraine will depend mainly on their relationship with Russia, but in part on their local Ukrainian and Russian Diaspora communities.
As Buenos Aires Spanish news agency Infobae reports, it is not the first time in the post-Cold War era that Russia has tried to use military threats in Latin America when challenged in its immediate environment. The most recent attempt was in 2018 when Russia declared its intention to establish an air base on the small Venezuelan island of La Orchilla.
This is an uncomfortable war for Brazil and Argentina as the populist governments of Bolsonaro and Fernández try to remain neutral. Raul Rojas and others in the Madrid paper El País point out that the presidents of Argentina and Brazil, Alberto Fernández and Jair Bolsonaro, traveled to Moscow in the weeks prior to the invasion, and a week before, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borizov toured Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.
Havana has closed ranks with Russia in the Ukrainian crisis and Moscow has restructured Cuba's debt. Caracas-based TeleSURtv’s Ignacio Ramonet remarks that Latin America is not a relevant actor in main geopolitical tensions linked to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, because of Moscow’s lack of relevance except in its relations with Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.
The War Refugees
Will sanctions, internal resistance in Russia and sending weapons stop the war in the short term? Probably not, at least not in time to stem the tide of refugees.
From the Russian, Ukrainian and general European point of view, from Finland to Moldova and beyond, there is simply not enough infrastructure to absorb an estimated 4 million combined Russian and Ukrainian refugees.
What will happen then?
While many hope to return home, they may find home has disappeared. The prognosis for this war is that it will become one of occupation and resistance, and not a place to return to unless to get involved.
Historically war has been the major trigger of migration to the not so new "New World" over the past four centuries. Ignoring the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers were on the run, we have the WWI working class wave, the WWII wave of professionals, and now, we will have the WWIII wave of cyber-smart millennials. Sadly, a lot of young widows with babies.
Further to this, established migration trends in the Americas are South to North, so Canada is the end of that road for some. The demographics at the US Southern border are clear: “According to a TIME analysis of Customs and Border Patrol data, the number of encounters between U.S. border agents and Ukrainians and Russians at the U.S.-Mexico border increased 753% between 2020 and 2021. In 2022 so far, the number of Ukrainians and Russians encountered at the border has already surpassed the previous two years, with the most significant uptick happening in the last six months, as Russia’s threats against Ukraine increased. CPB has not yet provided data for February or early March, making it difficult to track the influence of the Russian invasion more precisely.”
The wave of refugees will not stop
Diario Juridico in Barcelona reported ten days ago that Mexico received a plane load of refugees from Ukraine, half of them Mexicans, some of Ukrainian origin, but including Ecuadorians and Peruvians as well.
The point of entry will not only be Mexico but through community channels further South in Latin America.
Starting with the OAS votes on the War from Canada in the North to Chile in the South, including Venezuela represented by Juan Guaidó’s “interim government” and Uruguay’s vote change, all countries approved of the condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that was suggested by the US – except for Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
Of course, non-OAS members such as Cuba and Venezuela may not count in the diplomatic context, but they are countries that have significant expat populations in Canada. That means six Latin American countries did not vote to censure the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Statistics Canada tells us that out of a total of 7.5 million immigrants, about 5% come Latin America, and of those, the top sources are Mexico, Colombia, El Salvador, Peru, Chile, Guatemala and Ecuador, but Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua make up 18% of that contingent, according to the 2016 census.
However, the numbers of the Latin American population in Canada are highly controversial. The Latino community argues that the data does not represent the demographic reality and the population is largely underrepresented. In 2016, the official number was about 640,000, or 2% of the population, but after the adjustment, it reached 1 million, says the Canadian Hispanic Bar Association.
Of course, these numbers are less than the 1.3 million Ukrainians, but match the more than half a million Russians in Canada, even though Latino culture and media has been arguably more visible recently than both European ones as the latter are more ingrained in the Canadian heritage.
The official reaction of the countries must be mapped on that of the local expat Russian and Ukrainian communities. In each country the relationship with Ukraine is different, ranging from Mexicans who fled Michoacán violence by going to Ukraine and had to return, to 30 Mexicans who decided to stay and fight. Collaboration between the Chilean and Colombian embassies in Poland helped set up welcome houses for their stranded citizens. Colombian Vice President Marta Lucia Ramírez offered Colombia as mediator in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
From Buenos Aires, Perfil online reports the first family of Ukrainians who escaped from the war arriving in Argentina, a woman with a 9-year-old son and her grandmother. The story remarks they were contacted by one of the Ukrainian communities in the country and it was not a formal request to the government. Ukrainians in Argentina number slightly under half a million.
Deutsche Welle reports on how the Ukrainian communities in Argentina, the seventh largest in world, and Mexico have taken to the streets to protest the invasion.
In contrast, former head of the Argentine Army César Milani blamed NATO, the United States and Great Britain for the attack initiated by Putin, whom he described as "the most important leader in the world so far this century."
In La Nación on March 12, Pablo Fernandez Blanco and Camila Dolabjian showcase the Russian connection and the plot of travel and loyalties behind Kirchner’s sympathy for Vladimir Putin with a photo of a banner saying “Thank you Vladimir – [signed] Cristina and Alberto” placed by Kirchnerist militants in the Government House. They say ties with Russia increased with Cristina Kirchner and grew even more with Alberto Fernández.
The Real Instituto Elcano think tank in Spain calls Latin America a silent partner in the strategy of Putin's Russia in the Ukraine crisis and just one more pawn in a larger strategy aimed at weakening the international influence of the US.
The US Military Review in 2019 published a chronicle of Russian initiatives to influence the Russian speaking communities in the region. In the article Brian Fonseca and Vladimir Rouvinski conduct a detailed examination of the coordinated effort over the last decade to consolidate the Russian diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean in an attempt to strengthen Moscow’s connectivity to growing and increasingly more organized Russian-speaking communities.
Diaspora-focused organizations range from compatriot movements to cultural centres, the Russkiy Mir Foundation, Russian media outlets, and of course, the Russian Orthodox Church, all of which help cultivate Russian-speaking communities as a source of Russian national power.
For example, in Argentina, the Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriot Organizations (KSORS), established in 2007, and the Coordinating Council for Russian Youth, established in 2012, are prominently promoted on the local Russian embassy website. The diaspora as an instrument of Russian national power in Latin America and the Caribbean is still in a relatively young stage and has not yet yielded any serious benefits outside of aiding in cultural awareness. Still, it is important to note that Latin America and the Caribbean have been used to test Russian foreign policy in the past, the authors say.
What is happening in Latino community and homeland media read in Canada?
The gist of the reporting is that Canadian authorities are welcoming Ukrainian refugees in a transitory mode, an expectation shared by the community leaders, as executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), Ihor Michalchyshyn, told CBC News. Prime Minister Trudeau has discussed ways and means to evacuate refugees from Poland to Canada.
However, Eduardo and Ivania Olivares from Vancouver’s Fairchild Radio Latino Soy report that Russia is concerned that Ukrainian nationalists may prepare a provocation with toxic substances to then blame Russia for using chemical weapons in Ukraine. Ukrainian nationalists reportedly brought in 80 tons of ammonium to Zolochev. Residents leaving the area reported that nationalists taught them what to do in the event of a chemical attack.
According to HispanTV, the US views this report with respect to its chemical weapons laboratories in Ukraine as false and absurd and as an example of Russian disinformation. However, the radio hosts report that Russian Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova said they have proof that the US manufactured chemical weapons in Ukraine close to the Russian border, and that the US Embassy in Kyiv recently eliminated all pages about the biological weapons laboratories from its website. Russia has accused the US for years of developing biological weapons close to its borders and the US Defense Department funded at least 15 different biological laboratories in Ukraine, they say. At least eight of them are biological weapons laboratories run exclusively by the Pentagon. Meanwhile, Prensa Latina in Washington reported that the US House of Representatives has approved $13.6 billion in aid for Ukraine, including weapons to counter the Russian operation.
The immediate focus is currently on the overflow of refugees from Ukraine via Poland, Germany, Romania and other neighbours. MIREMS Senior Polish analyst Kinga Romanska, who like many other Polish people in Canada has been helping Ukrainian refugees, says that Polish-Canadians are sending money to relatives in Poland to help host Ukrainian families at their homes. The Polish Canadian Gazeta website reports that Mrs. Dorota Weiss, a Polish immigrant, wrote a check for $50,000 to the Canada-Ukraine Foundation to help people in Ukraine, as she said they would know best how to distribute the money.
While Poland tops the list of refugee destinations, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, Romania and other EU countries, as well as Russia and Belarus, are also on it.
However, many others will find their way to Canada by way of Latin America. To understand the entire Latin American impact of the war in Ukraine in terms of media reporting, polarization and politics, let’s add the 60 million Latinos, the 3.13 million Russians and 1 million Ukrainians in the United States to the mix when it comes to adding Ukrainians and even Russians to the South to North stream of migrants in the Americas.
Maria Jose Vargas in the Peruvian La República lists those Latin American countries ready to receive Ukrainian refugees - Guatemala, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile - and she notes the total possible volume of refugees could reach 4 million. The Peruvian El Comercio and the Mexican Milenio report that Russian and Ukrainian families arrived in Tijuana to seek asylum in the US. Claudia Pérez, a Mexican migration agent, revealed that they are mostly immigrants of Russian origin, but now more families are beginning to arrive from Ukraine.
According to the Peruvian El Comercio, hundreds of people demonstrated this Saturday at the gates of the Russian Embassy in the Chilean capital against the war in Ukraine and were shouting "Putin Murderer!" The Buenos Aires newspaper La Nación tells the story of the Argentine nun, a friend of soccer player Messi, who traveled to the Romanian border to rescue Ukrainians and denounced the existence of border mafias.
The Ecuadorian daily El Comercio tells the story of Diego Moncayo, trapped in Ukraine because of the war. The young man is Ecuadorian and went to Ukraine to study philology. He is one of the few foreigners who remain in the town of Shostka, in the Sumy oblast (region), in eastern Ukraine, trapped by the Russian war and the cunning of swindlers who have lied to him with offers to take him out from that area.
On March 8 in Buenos Aires Daily Página 12, Mercedes López San Miguel contrasts Europe’s reaction to the recent displacement of people from Ukraine to the response to non-European refugees coming to the continent. On January 25, Poland began building a wall on the border with Belarus to prevent the entry of displaced persons from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. She concludes that when it comes to people fleeing violence, there is no place for double standards.
The editorial in the daily La Nación out of San Jose, Costa Rica says the world and its institutions must ensure that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine do not go unpunished. Possibly, the International Criminal Court could charge Putin and his weathered generals for the horror they have caused. The worst is yet to come, as French President Emmanuel Macron said during a telephone conversation with Putin, but so may be the reckoning.
Quoting Roman orator Cicero that “I would prefer the most unjust peace to the most just of wars,” Toronto’s newspaper Correo Canadiense reaffirms its unwavering commitment to peace and dialogue as the only way to resolve differences among nations. The Latino community expresses its support for the people of Ukraine and advocates that the life of millions of people now in shelters to escape the horror outside be respected. Many demonstrations of support are taking place in various parts of Canada and South American nations as an example of the peace the world is seeking.
It seems that Peace, like Freedom, has become dependent on a point of view. But so, for that matter, has War.